For generations, gender roles within the family have been stationary: the father is the head of house and the breadwinner, and the mother raises the children. Many—if not most—women, upon becoming a mother, found themselves in that conventional category of “stay-at-home mom.” In the United States, however, this is changing. There is a new breed of parent in the U.S, one who challenges the traditional social covenant and acknowledged definition of family: stay-at-home dads. These men who undertake the majority of child-rearing responsibility shake the foundation of gender roles.
It is a long-standing belief that children need their mother close at hand, not their father; these stay-at-home fathers challenge that assumption. By taking on different roles within the family, stay-at-home dads have forced society to re-examine both its pre-existing gender roles and the mechanics of family life. Both Functionalist Theory and Cultural and Personality Theory offer insightful explanations towards the new popularity of “Mr. Mom.”
From a functionalist standpoint, a man undertaking the majority of child-rearing is a curious phenomenon. According to functionalist theory, every human on the planet has the same biological needs. It is the response to those biological needs—the resulting institutions, as it were—that define culture. Children require protection, education, sustenance, and comfort. From a biological standpoint, the mother is best suited to care for a child; this is due to the biological fact that mothers produce the most highly nutrient-rich food on the planet, breast milk. A father’s lack of breast milk, however, does not make him any less able to care for his child, particularly in this day and age. Society has had a nearly visceral reaction to the concept of stay-at-home fathers (hence the attempt at a derogatory nickname, “Mr. Mom.”); functionalist theory, however, explains that this should not be the case.
The culture and personality theory, however, focuses more on the reaction of society to these changing family roles. Culture and personality theory address a culture’s tendency to produce a favored personality type, to create set roles and set types that people must fit into. In American society, these familial roles find women as homemakers and men as breadwinners. What happens when these roles are switched? Society is almost comically confused that their general roles are not being filled, which in turn results in a general sense of unease whenever “Mr. Mom” comes up in conversation. Culture and personality theory explains that this unease is the result of predetermined cultural roles.
The modern idea of stay at home fathers has changed the understanding of family. Both Functionalist Theory and Culture and Personality Theory offer explanations as to why stay-at-home fatherhood seems so out of place in American society.
– Emerson C.